Developed by Platinum Games and directed by Hideki Kamiya, the same team that brought us that hair-whipping witch Bayonetta, the Wonderful 101 is as nostalgic as it is brilliant. This crazy superhero action-game is an automatic appeal to both adults and younger audiences thanks to its cartoonish visuals and its button-mashing gameplay. In The Wonderful 101 you take the role of 100 characters and fight as a single heard against a continuous onslaught of malicious robots.
Playing on the stereotypes of heroic TV characters coupled by cheesy punch lines and elements of comic book science, Earth is under attack by alien beings known as the GeathJerk and its upto the civilians to unite as one using their superhero alter egos to fight back and stop the invasion. Using advanced technological suits that allow them to fuse their bodies and form a variety of weapons known as “Unite Morphs” the heroes are able to create swords, hammers, whips, and a fist. Each character in the game is titled as Wonder with an additional sub-name to remain distinctive.
The main characters consist of 8 Wonders all followed by a common colour. During the start of the game you are introduced to Wonder Red whom of which you play as to save a school bus of frightened kids being attacked by aliens. Shortly after you meet Wonder Blue and Wonder Green with the rest being introduced as the game progresses. In both appearance and abilities The Wonderful 101 is best described as the runaway love child of Green Lantern and The Power Rangers, both of which it could give a run for their money.
The Wonderful 101 sports a unique visual style that combines elements of Viewtiful Joe, Hideki Kamiya’s earlier game, with a colourful overlay of Rayman Origins. It’s easy to say that The Wonderful 101 is a beautiful looking game but the character and level design is largely what makes the game stand out so much. In an attempt to wow a younger audience with its cartoon like appearance it wouldn’t surprise me if the toy like appearance of the characters in the game were purposely designed that way to further hold the attention of children. The game’s main heroes look as much as plastic as the alien robots do, it’s as if each individual was dipped in grease then placed in an oven, Bling! Bling!
As amazing as the art style is in the game and as stunning as it is to look at, I couldn’t help but notice the jaggies that surround almost every character and objects in the environment. The game plays from an isometric viewpoint that’s panned out so you can see everyone and everything that’s happening on screen, which is a lot by the way.
But when the camera does decide to bring you closer to the action the jagged edges are clear, this isn’t a game breaking bug by any means, it’s just noticeable. But the smooth frame-rate and continuous fluidity of the action taking place on screen is enough to make you forget that.
Aside from the Wonderful 101’s distinctive personality and colourful graphics the gameplay is something of a mixed bag. You either love it or you hate it and regardless of how you feel about it you’re left questioning if it was part of the game’s initial design or is it just bad game design?
Where The Wonderful 101 succeeds is in its action packed heaviness of having an absurd amount of characters duking out on-screen at once. But the gameplay mechanics paired up with its combo heavy control scheme collide with each other, leaving the player in a state of confusion and frustration.
The game asks too much from you while delivering too little. The generic enemy type of giant robots and cybernetic animals are overpowered and continuously swarm you. This leaves hardly any room for attack experimentation or discovery of new techniques.
Controlling upto one-hundred characters that work essentially as one is a good one and actually works wonders, no pun intended. But the way in which your enemies are able to respond using continuous attacks and a near invincible defence mechanism doesn’t do well to make the player feel much enjoyment. It’s more like a choir that you can’t wait to get done with combined, with a temporary fun-factor of old school button bashing.
No matter where you are positioned within the game’s level if you’re going up against the main boss of a group of enemies, nine times out of ten you will be hit. It’s as if the bosses have an auto-aim system that smartly changing course no matter what kind of attack they choose to inflict on you. The constant button bashing addiction that the game does well is not enough to stop you from questioning certain things the game forces on you.
Why is the enemy’s front shield able to work in its favour when I’m attacking from behind? Why are my hits registering on the life meter yet I’m receiving no visual feedback? And why is the enemy able to randomly attack me while I’m attacking it with full force at its weakest? The flaws of the game are not enough to be excused despite its appealing visual nature.
The Wonderful 101 does a fair job of creating unique control methods and making use of the Wii-U’s gamepad. Seeing as the player is in charge of upto one-hundred characters all being used at once to create giant weapons of whatever they can essentially will. Using the stylus on the Gamepad’s touch screen the player must draw a certain shape that recreates the players input on-screen to form the character’s weapon. While this works great and is a plus side on the gamepad’s behalf, the player is also able to do the exact same thing using the right analogue stick, which is also a much faster way of doing so as you’re constantly on-guard from attacking enemies.
This is a very creative way for both the game’s battle situations and Nintendo’s hardware, but the fact that this same action can be done with the analogue stick means the game could have been created on other platforms. Looking at it from this point of view the choice of this game being created for the Wii-U means it’s not that unique, and that other implementations for the game should have been present.
The main plot of the game presents itself through comic book style cut-scenes with over the top action sequences that do well to complement its cartoonish nature. Everything is explosive and dramatic, and it’s this level of childish humour for which the game appeals to both adults and children.
The game plays out as a continuous adventure in which the player progress through the level while encountering hoards of enemy robots and aliens, and as one can guess you’re not able to make your way any further until you defeat the group that is in front of you.
Combined with an onslaught of non-stop battles and colourful explosions taking place all over the screen, combat doesn’t appear to be difficult or confusing to keep track off. But while it doesn’t appear that way as I previously mentioned it’s a mixed bag which is largely down to how the player feels about it.
Using quick-time events where the player must use the touch pad to the “Unite Morphs” within in a ten-second window. The resemblance to other action games such as Bayonetta, Darksiders, and Viewtiful Joe is very present here and they don’t in anyway feel ripped off.
Earning points as you battle your way along the stage like transitions of the game’s levels, an upgrade menu allows you to spend those points to acquire new abilities. Upgrading your skills and abilities feels rewarding but this is only due to the frustration that you face which ninety percent of the battles that you engage in. As you upgrade your skills the evidence within the game is obvious, enemies are still somewhat of a headache but the noticeable power increase in your attacks can’t be missed.
This leaves The Wonderful 101 in a bit of an odd place and this is because of its choices in attacking coupled by its frustration in doing so. Nothing is explained on how to bypass certain stages in the levels and although there’s nothing wrong with a challenging game, the lack of concentration on what makes a game challenging and what makes a game down right irritating is something that wasn’t thought out in The Wonderful 101.
There’s a thin line between designing a game to be challenging and ending up with a game that’s too frustrating for the player to enjoy. This is where thinks it’s challenging but just comes off as broken. My experience with The Wonderful 101 is not something I can see myself taking part in again and this is something that could possibly put a stranglehold on its replay value.
The Wonderful 101 is undoubtedly one of the most if not the most frustrating game I’ve ever played, I was almost ready to chuck the gamepad out the window at one point. This is mainly down to its poor explanation of controls and lack of tutorials when required by the player. The Wonderful 101 could do with a fair bit of tuning but it isn’t something that could repel a younger audience, it has too much colour and life to it.
After its fairly lengthy story mode, the five player co-operative mode is something that younger audiences may want to visit. Based on the single-player story you take on waves of enemies with each player leading their own team of Wonders. This is where the replay value kicks back in but the absence of large-scale boss battles that where present in the single-player story, may leave the multi-player feeling flat in comparison.
This game was reviewed on the Nintendo Wii U.